Left blue by cost of growing greens

AS THE first deliveries of this season's young broccoli and cauliflower plants arrive for planting, Alistair Ewan, the managing director of East of Scotland Growers, one of the UK's largest producers of vegetables has expressed his concern over rocketing transport costs.

"It now costs us over 1,000 for every lorry load to bring plants up from either Lincolnshire or Lancashire. That is almost 20 per cent more than it did only a few months ago and there seems to be no end to fuel price increases."

This year the farmer-owned co-operative, which is based in Cupar in Fife, will require more than one hundred lorry loads to bring north the 80 million or so plants that are needed.

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"The problem is that road transport is only one aspect of the rise in fuel prices as tractor diesel, sprays, fertilisers and polythene are all affected by the price of oil. We are facing increased costs all around while the one price that is not rising is what we eventually get from the buyers of our produce. We are surviving on cutting costs and improving our efficiency."

Despite Ewan's worries, the 20 members of the co-op will this year aim to produce some 14,000 tonnes of broccoli and 5,000 tonnes of cauliflower for both the fresh and frozen market.

The membership is based in Fife. Perth and Angus and the cropping programmes are staggered to allow for harvesting from June through to the end of November.

The first crops are already in the ground and are sheltering under polythene sheeting. In a normal year, by this time of the season, plants are put into open ground but this April, the soil is much colder and an increased acreage of the crop will require to be protected.

He did not expect the slower start to the season to greatly affect the onset of harvesting.